A Rock Star

October 17th, 2016

My favorite picture from my recent trip to Rome is a photo I took of the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury as they processed right by me on the way to the altar of the church where they were to make their historic declaration. (See last post.) In the picture, the Archbishop has just begun to clap his hands, as applause breaks out in the congregation as a whole.

Applause in church? Very rare, I know–but this pope is a religious rock star. When he’s around, people get inspired and the rules are bent. (Photos in church? I disapprove in principle–but everyone around me was snapping away, so I joined in.)



From Canterbury to Rome

October 12th, 2016

I’m just back from an extraordinary visit to Rome.

My wife and I were in Italy to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Anglican Centre in Rome–an ecumenical outpost representing the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion in relations with the Roman Catholic Church. There was to be a grand dinner at the art gallery in a private Roman palazzo, with the Archbishop of Canterbury in attendance.

As it turned out, we were also witnesses to what may prove to be an historic encounter between the leaders of the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. At a stately private service of vespers, each gave a forward-looking, hopeful homily to inspire their respective churches to work together for evangelism and service to the poor. They exchanged personal gifts: the Archbishop received a replica of the staff or crozier given to the first Archbishop of Canterbury, while he he gave the pope his own, very simple pectoral cross.

The service concluded with the commissioning of 19 pairs of Anglican/Roman Catholic bishops or archbishops from all over the world. Their duty now is to carry out ecumenical work in their respective countries.

All in all, it was an impressive demonstration that the Holy Spirit is breathing new life into the ecumenical movement. —J. Douglas Ousley

The Color Black

September 27th, 2016

Many observers have wondered why racial conflict seems so prevalent now in the United States after almost eight years under an African-American president. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church–also African-American–has felt called to make racial reconciliation one of the prime emphases of his ministry.

While I think this is a very good question, I have no answer to it. Perhaps black leadership has made people feel freer to express their grievances. Perhaps our nation is dealing with issues we have been covering up in the past.

Whatever the cause, racial conflict continues. Episcopalians of all skin colors will have this problem before them for years to come. —J. Douglas Ousley

Ordinary Time

September 20th, 2016

Sunday night, one of our parishioners was having dinner about 110 feet from the bombing on 23rd Street–in a restaurant on 24th Street. He not only didn’t hear the blast, but he went on to enjoy a leisurely meal and only learned of the bomb when he left the restaurant! Even then, he said most of the surrounding streets seemed to be displaying business as usual.

The church refers to the many Sundays between the Feast of Pentecost in the spring and the beginning of the Season of Advent in late November or early December as “Ordinary Time.” The lessons and prayers set for these Sundays are generic, nothing particular to the season, “ordinary.”

So the city is wracked by bombs and life goes on. Terror has become ordinary. God help us.–J. Douglas Ousley

9/11 @ 15 in NYC

September 13th, 2016

Preaching last Sunday, I realized that many of the people who were in church weren’t in NYC 15 years ago on September 11. Given that they didn’t experience the attacks of that day at first hand, they were remarkably attentive. 9/11 continues to unite us as a people and a nation.

Our well-attended service was, I believe, an appropriately solemn and devout observance. I mentioned political and military action as well as the need to seek peace, and I received no protests that the sermon was biased.

God who was our help in ages past remains our hope in the uncertain years to come. —J. Douglas Ousley

Numbers Game

September 7th, 2016

A couple of days ago, I was discussing church attendance with a parishioner. He observed that many people seem no longer to feel under the obligation to attend church every Sunday. Even Roman Catholics don’t worry about committing a mortal sin if they fail to go to mass. Even devout Protestants “honor the Sabbath” with all sorts of leisure activities besides worship.

In fact, the new attendance norm could explain why church attendance has lagged in recent years. If a person goes to church once a month instead of four times, her attendance record declines by 75%.

I myself see no problem with the every-Sunday old rule. It follows the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament and it encourages regular sharing of the Body of Christ, as commended in the New Testament. But people today seem to need more than just duty to bring them to church. Something for all of us concerned about the future of Christian religion to think about. —J. Douglas Ousley

‘Twas Ever Thus Dept.

August 29th, 2016

Michael J. Krasulski, an historian writing about Philadelphia churches recently noted that one of the parishes was complaining that no one volunteered for its annual strawberry festival. The same day, the historian discovered a letter to the parish about the lack of volunteers for their strawberry festival–in 1927!

The historian also found an article in a church magazine “lamenting how difficult it had become to recruit choirboys because of the ever-increasing demands upon children’s time and that of their parents.” That article was published in 1898.

The bottom line is: Christians–adults and children–always have lots to do. We have many competing interests besides religion. All the more reason to remember that “This is the day that the Lord hath made…”

J. Douglas Ousley

Proof of God?

August 24th, 2016

During my last vacation days of the summer, I enjoyed reading David Gelertner’s The Tides of Mind. Gelertner is a professor of computer science at Yale, a pioneer in the Internet and predictor of the rise of social media, among many other accomplishments in tech fields.

His book, though, is about what he calls the “spectrum” of the mind, ranging from reasoning at the top of the spectrum to dreaming at the bottom. The ideas are much more complicated than my summary indicates, but the writing is lucid and the reader is given much to think about. For example, I had never reflected on the peculiar state of consciousness that we have just before we sleep.

Gelertner is apparently a practicing Jew and there are hints of his faith here and there in the book. I”ll close with one of his most provocative comments: “I think that, in truth, nearly all of us do believe in God, although we don’t realize it ourselves…The original, most basic repressed idea of the modern psyche is our belief in God. The fact that we do believe proves nothing, except how much mind fashions change, and how much they matter. It’s just interesting…”–J. Douglas Ousley


Religion and Politics, Encore

August 8th, 2016

At a Supper Group meeting last night, I suggested that we avoid discussing the upcoming presidential election. I knew there were strongly held opinions scattered among the members of the group.

The group agreed with my request. However, the conversation still kept veering off toward politics; the words, “Trump” and “Clinton” kept appearing. Several times, I had to abruptly change the subject. The topic seemed inescapable.

One member of the Supper Group reminded us of the general admonition to avoid discussion of religion and politics. Now as part of a church program, we weren’t required to avoid religion! But this election is making it very hard to prevent arguments about politics, even among members of the same congregation. —J. Douglas Ousley

Revival Coming?

August 1st, 2016

A friend of mine who has a daily podcast, the Andrew Klavan Show, believes that a religious revival is coming. He bases his speculation on the alarming decline of values in the West. He believes that only with a renewed commitment to religion can our culture survive.

I have no idea whether this prediction will come true; Mr. Klavan expects to see evidence within five years. It’s certainly a nice thought.

Meanwhile, what is most disturbing in our own church is the continuing lethargy. At the national level, at least, there is little apparent initiative to try new programs that might lead to church growth.

On the other hand, a few seminaries seem to have been attracting younger and more able students, which bodes well for the distant future. Our own diocese is in the middle of a strategic planning program, with church growth as one aim. And of course religion–often of the fundamentalist variety–is growing in influence throughout most of the non-Western world.

I hope my friend is right. And I hope that if we do indeed see a revival of religious practice, that it’s the sort of faith that we can identify with. —J. Douglas Ousley